Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here, here and here).

Acts 13:13-14a

Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Pisidia

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:40-43

40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
    be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
    a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s blinding of Elymas the sorcerer for trying to prevent Sergius Paulus from converting. Paul accomplished this via divine grace as the Holy Spirit welled up in him.

That happened in Paphos, on the island of Cyprus.

Verse 13 tells us that Paul and his companions — including Barnabas — left Cyprus. they sailed from Cyprus to Perga in Pamphylia then onto Antioch in Pisidia (not Syria). John (John Mark, Mark of the Gospel) returned to Jerusalem (verse 14).

John MacArthur explains what probably happened (emphases mine below):

And here’s the sad note. “And John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. You say, “What’s so sad about that?” Paul was very upset about that, very very upset. S[o] why did John Mark leave? There’s several possibilities. Some say that he had resentment over Paul becoming the leader over Barnabas. Some say Mark was more attached to Barnabas and Paul, by his very nature, became the leader he was angry with Paul and didn’t want to work under him. Others say he was afraid because they were having to go over the Taurus mountains and the Taurus mountains were noted for being perilous. They were terribly fast torrents that was spanned by very weak bridges, and there were also robbers that lurked and the Roman government had tried to get the robbers out of the Taurus mountains but there was so many cracks and crevices and caves they couldn’t get them, and so it was a terribly perilous thing to even be in the Taurus mountains. It’s interesting, too, that in II Corinthians Paul says, “In my life I’ve been in the peril of robbers and in the peril of rivers,” and it may have been just that when he was talking about when he went to the Taurus mountains on his way.

And so perhaps Mark had a little chicken in him. There’s a third possibility and that is that the romance of mission work had worn off. Like so many missionaries who go out the first time around, the romance is going and they come back and that’s it. But whatever it was Paul was upset and it caused friction. Over in Chapter 15, verse 38, it had a terrible effect. They were going to go on a second missionary journey Paul and Barnabas, and this is, we’ll get to this and ooh you’ll learn some things there. Look at the difference between this and verse 36, “Let us go again.” Um Paul you’re running ahead, right? The last time the Spirit of God said, “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas.” Paul said, “Let us go.” You know what happened? They didn’t go. Paul wound up taking Silas and Barnabas wound up going somewhere else.

But you know what happened? Barnabas determined to take John, verse 37, “But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia and went not with him to the work and so the contention was so sharp that they departed asunder one from the other.” You know that leaving of John Mark actually fractured the relationship between Paul and Barnabas? There’s a beautiful ending to the story II Timothy 4:11, Paul is closing out his life and he writes and he says, “Only Luke is here. Could you send Mark? He could be profitable to me.” Somewhere in the years he and Mark got back together.

MacArthur tells us that Antioch in Pisidia is in the region known as Anatolia in Asia Minor.

In Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and his companions attended synagogue on the Sabbath. The leader asked them for a ‘word of encouragement to the people’ (verse 15). Paul rose to preach a message tailored for a Jewish audience.

MacArthur describes the themes Paul used:

First of all, the Jewish mind was dominated by the fact that God was active in the history of Israel. They exalted in the fact that they were God’s chosen people; that they were the ones that God had called out, set apart, through whom He gave the blessings, the covenants, the promises and so forth. The Jew was absorbed joyously in the concept that God was his God and so the concept of God’s involvement in Israel’s history was one of the general themes that dominated their minds.

The second general theme that dominated their minds was God’s future plans for them through Messiah. The Jew exalted in his nationalism. He exalted in his Jewishness but he also exalted in the future hope of Israel. They dreamed, they hoped, they lived for the day that Messiah would come. It was said that the Jewish mothers used to wish that their son would be the Messiah. This was the dream of every true Jew.

The third thought that dominated their minds was God’s attitude in dealing with sin. The Jew never forgot his identity. The Jew never forgot his hope and the Jew never forgot his sin. Those three things absolutely saturated and dominated the life of a Jew and it is to those three things that Paul directs his message, answering to the three great themes of Judaism. Every Jew saw God in control of his destiny. Every Jew saw God’s promise of a Messiah as his hope and every Jew was careful to follow the sacrifices set down to deal with sin.

When Paul mentioned King David, he said:

23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.

Paul then discussed Jesus’s ministry, His death and Resurrection, explaining that these events were all prophesied — the holy and certain blessings of David. Corruption (below) refers to sin, by the way:

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

Paul went on to say that only these blessings could save the Jewish people, adding that the law of Moses could not (verse 39).

This brings us to the second set of verses, where Paul warns that his audience must believe that Jesus is the Messiah, otherwise another prophecy will come true (verse 40).

The prophecy, to which Paul refers (verse 41) is in Habakkuk 1:5 and Isaiah 29:14, the latter cited below as it explains the penalty for unbelief:

therefore, behold, I will again
do wonderful things with this people,
with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

The Jews knew how God had severely punished their ancestors for disobedience. Paul’s audience thought back to the events in Habakkuk.

MacArthur gives us the history:

In Habakkuk’s day, Israel was a mess and God said, “Habakkuk, you better tell the people that I’m going to do a work that they’re not even going to believe even though you tell them,” and the work is the work of judgment, incidentally here. The passage warns against the unbelief of Israel. If Israel rejects as continually as they have the message of God, they’re going to get it.

Do you remember what God did to them in Habakkuk? Sent the Chaldeans, sacked Jerusalem, hauled them off to Babylon, wiped out the whole country and Paul says, “You remember what the prophets said God was going to do to Israel of old? Listen,” he says to that congregation in Antioch, “You better beware lest what God did then happens to you, when God will work a work of judgment.” Notice a couple of notes and it’s so powerful. “I’ll work a work in your days which you shall in no way believe even though somebody tells it to you.”

Paul’s review of Jewish history and his conclusion with Habakkuk got the people in the synagogue thinking deeply. Instead of being angry, they begged Paul to return the following Sabbath to preach again (verse 42).

Verse 43 says that those who heard Paul began following him and Barnabas, who urged them to continue in the grace of God.

That verse mentions Gentiles — ‘devout converts to Judaism’. Therefore, Jew and Gentile received the message and acted upon it.

Interestingly, Matthew Henry’s commentary says that verse 42 is not as positive as it looks. Some Jews actually were incensed at Paul’s words. There were Gentile pagans who also heard them and longed to be included in the divine promise. This perspective makes the rest of Acts 13 more understandable. First, Henry’s explanation:

I. There were some of the Jews that were so incensed against the preaching of the gospel, not to the Gentiles, but to themselves, that they would not bear to hear it, but went out of the synagogue while Paul was preaching (Acts 13:42), in contempt of him and his doctrine, and to the disturbance of the congregation. It is probable they whispered among themselves, exciting one another to it, and did it by consent …

II. The Gentiles were as willing to hear the gospel as those rude and ill-conditioned Jews were to get out of the hearing of it: They besought that these words, or words to this effect, might be preached to them the next sabbath; in the week between, so some take it; on the second and fifth days of the week, which in some synagogues were their lecture days. But it appears (Acts 13:44) that it was the next sabbath day that they came together. They begged, 1. That the same offer might be made to them that was made to the Jews. Paul in this sermon had brought the word of salvation to the Jews and proselytes, but had taken no notice of the Gentiles; and therefore they begged that forgiveness of sins through Christ might be preached to them, as it was to the Jews …

III. There were some, nay, there were many, both of Jews and proselytes, that were wrought upon by the preaching of the gospel

Now on to what happened: practically all of Antioch (Pisidia) gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas preach at the next Sabbath. However, the Jews who were angry with Paul began contradicting him. Paul and Barnabas then stated they would stop preaching to the Jews and focus instead on the Gentiles:

46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

That citation is from Isaiah 49:6:

he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

How appropriate that we are reading this during Advent!

The Gentiles rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord. They believed in Christ Jesus. The Gospel message — and, no doubt, conversions — spread throughout Pisidia (verse 49). The most influential Jews banded together to persecute Paul and Barnabas, driving them out of the region (verse 50). MacArthur says:

Now we don’t know the exact nature of it but in 2 Timothy 3:11, Paul talks about his persecution in Antioch and in 2 Corinthians 11, he says he was beaten with rods and with whips and that’s probably what happened there. They really let them have it and then they “expelled them from their borders.”

Paul, Barnabas and their companions ‘shook the dust from their feet’ and went onward to Iconium (verse 51). The disciples were ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ (verse 52).

Remember the meaning of shaking the dust from one’s feet in the Gospels. MacArthur reminds us:

Jesus had said in Luke 10, when you go to evangelize, sent out His disciples, when they don’t hear your message and they don’t believe the Messiah, you shake the dust off your feet and leave that town. What He meant was this: No Jew would ever bring Gentile dirt into Israel because the Jews believed that Gentile soil was defiled and so when a Jew arrived at the border of Israel, he would shake the dust off his feet because they didn’t want even Gentile dirt in Israel. They thought it was soiled and Jesus accommodated Himself to that particular view and when He said, “Shake the dust off your feet,” He meant treat those Jews like they were Gentiles. You don’t want a thing to do with them. They’re just as if they were pagan and when Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet in the face of the Jews of Antioch, they were saying in effect, “We consider you heathen.” That in itself was the greatest disclaimer, the most volatile rebuke that anyone could ever give to a Jew was to assign him a place with pagans and they did it to them. From now on, God looks at you like heathen. That was the result. They were lost, doomed, because they rejected their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Paul and Barnabas left town, took off for Iconium. They left two different groups. God saw some as pagans. God filled the others with His Holy Spirit. Let me say this in closing. Listen. You either live life separated from God, a heathen without God, without the knowledge of God, or you live your life with God’s Holy Spirit inside. There’s no middle ground. You either take Jesus or reject Him. He said, “He that is not with Me is against Me.”

MacArthur says that judgement is always in effect. He warns us:

You know it is hard…the hardest thing for me to understand and inevitably, the hardest thing for people to believe is that God is a God of judgment.

It’s unbelievable because we have a misconstrued idea of the character of God to begin with. We think God is a namby-pamby, senile Santa Claus who pats everybody on the head and says, “Oh, I don’t care what you do. You’re nice,” that kind of thing. It’s not so. God is dealing with sin. You read the Old Testament and you get His attitude toward sin. God deals with sin seriously and we know that it’s difficult to believe. Someone even in our church called the other day and was very, very upset. They went to a class and they heard about hell and they said, “Oh, I can’t believe it. It can’t be. It’s not so,” and so forth and so on. It’s hard to believe that. Even for us who believe it in our hearts, our emotions are hard pressed to handle it, right?

There is a hell and there is a hell where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and there’s going to be a day of judgment and it’s going to come and men don’t believe it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. God knew they wouldn’t believe it. He said that right here. You won’t believe it even though somebody tells you and so the warning closes out Paul’s sermon. He says, “I’m giving you an invitation. For all who believe, all things are forgiven and you’re justified. But beware, if you don’t believe it, God’s going to work a work of judgment which you won’t believe.” So you either believe in Jesus Christ or you don’t believe what’s going to happen in result…in response. Well, God is a God of grace but Paul closes with a serious warning. A man is a fool who rejects Jesus Christ.

To anyone reading this and thinking Christmas is purely a time for secular pleasures, please think again. Begin reading the New Testament. Pray for faith. Pray for grace. Pray that Christmas finally has true meaning.

Next time — Acts 14:1-7